The Love That Creates Love Out of the Unlovable
Human love sees what’s good. God’s love creates it out of nothing.
The love of God does not first discover but creates what is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through attraction to what pleases it.
— Martin Luther; Thesis 28 of the Heidelberg Disputation
When I look around, there are things that I find good and there are things that I find… not so good.
I, like you, am a human, and this is what we do.
When I go onto Instagram, I gravitate towards photos of cabins, mountain lakes, and pithy theological quotes (like the one above).
Humans have an ideal for what we find attractive, interesting, useful, and love-worthy.
We have two categories for the world:
By our own volition, it’s downright impossible to change our minds about where things land in these groups. Things/people are either pleasing or not (the ‘meh’ things can go into the “pleasing” category because they aren’t necessarily repulsive, I guess).
God, on the other hand, operates from an absolutely different paradigm
God doesn’t find what’s pleasing (and not pleasing) like we do. God CREATES what’s pleasing out of nothing, ex nihilo.
Christ says, “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” [Matt. 9:13]
Late Lutheran theologian Gerhard O. Forde puts it so eloquently…
It is love, the love of God that creates out of nothing, calls into being that which is from that which is not. This love of God that creates its object is contrasted absolutely with the love of humans. Human love is awakened by attraction to what pleases it. It must search to find its object and, one might add, will likely toss it aside when it tires of it.
— Gerhard O. Forde; On Being a Theologian of the Cross
The common belief is that Christianity is a set of rules to live by. If we live by them, we’ll be aligned with God and live a ‘sanctified’ (holy) life.
In other words, we can get ourselves into heaven by following God’s laws/commandments.
Even in today’s more secular/spiritual culture, this rings true. You can replace “heaven” with “enlightenment” or “personal success”. You can also replace “10 commandments” with “Yoga Sutras,” the things your youth group leader told you to do, the trendy new diet, or a million other purity laws that humans have concocted to point towards a sense of sanctification.
Not to say that any of these are bad, necessarily. They might be very good laws to live by. They might help us improve our life a click or three. But they all fall short when it comes to Ultimate fulfillment, wholeness, heaven, enlightenment, sanctification, or whatever word you prefer.
But here’s something I’ve had to wrap my head around…
The point of the law isn’t to make us holy. The point of the law is to bring us to the end of ourselves so that God can make us holy.
When we start to follow the law (whatever set of laws you subscribe to), we feel really good. But then, it gets tiring. And then really tiring. And then, we start hating the God/law or at least give up and feel defeated.
That’s when we come to the cross…
Oh, crap. We thought we were being really good, but in truth, we crucified what was good.
Hmmm…. How did that happen?
Good Friday sucks. But then, it hits us.
God didn’t bring us here just to make us feel bad. God brought us here to make us die to ourselves so that we could be made new.
The law kills.
The gospel (the promise of the love of God) stands OUTSIDE of the law and makes anew. It breathes love and life into the unlovely and unlively.
Humans think that God operates as we do. SO, we think that we have to gussy ourselves up (in a multitude of ways) in order to appear lovable to God.
Luther kicks that entire concept in the teeth.
God isn’t in the business of finding what’s already good. God is in the business of creating goodness out of nothing and the un-good.
This is why, if I should become a parish priest someday, I don’t want a house full of polished spiritual superstars or morally woke warriors (aka delusional people). I want the pews full of people like me — people who have tried a million different things and have fallen flat on their faces time and time again.
People who thought they knew right from wrong but are seriously questioning the whole thing.
People who’ve given up and walked away from countless good things and countless good people for the sake of something “better”.
People who’ve messed up; who’ve been the loser; who’ve lied to themselves and their friends.
People who know firsthand what God does to their so-called “good plans”.
People who are giving their kids way too much screentime during the pandemic and ignoring them by taking longer bathroom phone-scrolling breaks than they need (or is this just me?).
In other words, I want a house full of sinners. Because, really, is there any other type of person?
I heard it said that there are two types of people… Those who know they’re sinners and those who’ve deluded themselves into believing that they’re not.
I want to say here that classifying oneself as a ‘sinner’ has always gotten such bad PR in the human realm of performative moral purity and perfection. But with this concept of God’s love, we see that taking the posture of a sinner is the perfect posture to take if we want to be made into something new.
Scripture boldly proclaims that God loves sinners, evil people, idiots, and wimps. Not because they’re really sorry or whipped puppies of sorts. But because God is in the business of creating goodness and beauty out of nothing. Rather than seeking its own good, God moves across the waters of the soul to bestow goodness where there was none.
Sinners aren’t loved by God because they’re attractive. They’re attractive because they’re loved by God.
If you think you’re already perfect, God will move on to a different soul that’s been cracked open by life just waiting to be made into something new.
To the self-described good person, it’s almost as if God says,
So, you say you’re good, right?
M’kay. I’ll move on then.
Let me know how your self-imposed ‘goodness’ works out for ya.
The good news is, we can take this more passive posture every single day. Instead of proving to God and/or the world how perfect we are, we can begin every day anew saying,
“God, I’m a sinner just like everyone here, but because I’m loved by you in Christ, the possibilities are endless. Dunk the old me into the waters of baptism and make me anew, God. Make me into your beloved creation as I was in the beginning and will be, forevermore.”
On the other side of the cross, we can look out onto our world and pray,
“God, my human eyes can’t see beauty in the things you adore. Take away my dependence in my vision and give me faith in yours. I can’t see the love in the unloved, but through faith, I know it’s there. I know there is beauty in the muck and mess of life. Replace my egoic ideals of glory with your endlessly creative love that breathes newness, beauty, and love into nothing.”